At law school, I studied the importance of Election in a democratic society. It is inevitable, as people get to exercise their political right to suffrage and choose who should represent them on their behalf. People have different choice on their participation in election. On September 18th, the last phase of local election in Nepal got over. Province No.2 voted with majority and that legitimized the election in one sense. During the campaign, the populace was divided on their positions. Three nuances can be broadly categorized. A section of population celebrated the election, as they waited for it about two decades. Revolutionary segment voted out of the box, in an attempt to delegitimize the election. Some other boycotted the election and justified their boycott in the backdrop of the constitutional amendment issue and extra-judicial killing during the constitution promulgation two years back.
I would slope the discussion with a different tone. I didn’t voted and choose to place myself in boycott section. I completely agree with the statement that election boycotts have no place in a functioning democracy. Staying out this election, is just an attempt to peruse the role of boycotts in a democracy that is not functioning as it should be. The discussion on boycott is determined by the violation of conditions for a democratic election. This election was the framework designed by the present constitution, which still stands amidst divided acceptance. This election was not only meant for casting out votes for representatives, but was meant for imposition of incognito electoral politics. Successful completion of local election has opened doors for conducting elections for provincial and federal level and forming all three tiers of government. A structure will be formed soon, which will still have the majority of politically included group and still marginalize the excluded group.
Rastriya Janata Party (RJP) took a stand on timely amendment of the constitution before any election. Its stand postponed the election in province no. 2, for two time. RPP could not hold the rigidity for the third time and run down the election ground to save itself from embroilment. RJP concluded that participation, in electoral process even if it is unequal, is more beneficial than boycotting it. Choosing to stay outside the election could have adverse results collapsing its institutional setting. While, the acceptance of the election has collapsed the identity movement of Madhesh, that can be traced back to blazing of Interim-Constitution in 2007.
If I had voted, that would mean agreeing to be bound by the outcome of that vote, no matter who wins. At the cost of voting, I could not let myself agree to what has been discriminatively imposed on. In the houses of those who lost their lives while dissenting on constitution making process, reminiscence of the inflicted mental distress are still live. Participation in election would have meant, declaring allegiance to whatever system the political class choose to put in place. The government has delegitimized itself several times (when security forces shot people from point blank range in peaceful demonstration). This election was more of using the vote to elicit our consent to the continuing the undemocratic politics and the imposition of ever-more intrusive mandates on what constitutional implementation. Voting is giving consent, and I don’t consent to what I perceive as wrong.
Ten years of Madhesh movement carried the agenda to constitutional guarantee of shared identity and equal treatment. The Constitution of Nepal, 2015 was promulgated with a proviso on these preferential basics. Amendment of the constitution was necessary for the extension of the sovereignty of the people that the constitution has enshrined. People have the right to meet new challenges over time without taking recourse to extra-constitutional methods like revolution. Election prior to the amendment of the constitution has retained the ultra-nationalist driven definition of the sovereignty and postponed the constitutional recourse for voicing the unheeded ones.
Jacques Fresco once said, “Politicians are not elected to change things, they are elected to keep things the same.” Keeping things the same entails a furtherance of the same exclusionary nature of the state. Since it was obvious that not even RJP could success in constitutional amendment, boycotting the election was comparatively an effective form of dissent. Every election comes with a purpose, and the purpose of this election has been met. The discourse on constitutional amendment has shifted to issues of development at local levels. This election didn’t represented me, so I didn’t go for polls.
Antonio Guterres, Secretary-General of the United Nations, said we should assume our responsibilities as a citizen. Influence our government, network with others who share our aspirations, speak up when things are unfair and be active in making change. What is needed right now is an organized movement that seeks to delegitimize this system which is unfair and influence it to respect the sovereignty, that vests within the people, through an election boycott.
Kathmandu University School of Law